Dr Kali MacIsaac
Self Care Support for Social Distancing and Self-Isolation
The current global health crisis has created an unusual social situation, that of social distancing and self-isolation, that has far-reaching implications for our health. Beyond the risk of contracting Covid-19 or caring for family members affected by illness, the mental health effects of social-isolation will eventually be felt by all of us. Many of us are experiencing an unprecedented level of anxiety in response to the air of unease that surrounds us, making self-care less of an option and more of a necessity.
We applaud each of you for doing your part to flatten the curve by distancing yourselves from others. It is by coming together with a concerted effort to reduce social contact that we can all make a difference in how this plays out in Canada. You’re making it easier on your fellow humans who work in essential services so that they can keep doing the heroic work that they do to keep us fed, sheltered, connected, and receiving high quality healthcare when we need it. Thank you for that.
But social distancing isn’t easy. It’s unusual and uncomfortable, and unfortunately, it’s probably here to stay for the next several months. The latest reports from our government estimate that we’ll need to continue our distancing measures until at least July 2020, and possibly longer. If that makes you feel a bit anxious, we get it. We’re right there with you. And we’re here to help.
While this experience of social distancing may look different for each of us, there are many ways in which we’re suffering that feel pretty universal. People from around the world are feeling the same sense of uncertainty, anxiety and disconnection that isolation brings.
Social connection is considered by many researchers to be a biological need, vital to physical well-being and possibly even survival. Results from meta-analysis looking at the influence of social isolation on over 300,000 individuals showed that greater social connection is associated with a 50% reduced risk of early death.
Further research shows that there are various negative effects of social isolation including:
-increased risk for depression, cognitive decline and dementia
-reduced adherence to medical treatment and medication
-negative effects on blood pressure, immune function and inflammation
Despite the necessity of social distancing right now, we don’t want you to experience these negative effects of isolation.
Following regular self-care practices during social distancing helps to promote a calm and regulated nervous system. This allows you to manage stress more easily, supports healthy immune system function, and improves overall well-being: getting you get through this as smoothly as possible. Plus, the positive benefits of self-care on your health will help prepare your system for when it comes into contact with Covid-19, or any other pathogen for that matter.
Our self-care tips incorporate many of the pillars of health that we preach every day in our clinical Chinese and Naturopathic medicine practice. Sleep, physical activity, stress management, and a healthy diet are the foundations upon which our systems of medicine work. Without these pillars, our medicine simply isn’t as effective. It’s the choices you make every day in your life that will provide you with the biggest returns on investment for your health.
Consult with your Acubalance doc for individual self-care recommendations if you’re feeling the effects of social isolation, but know that these general tips are safe for everyone to practice:
1. Eat nourishing food and stay hydrated: the food we eat is information. Gone are the days of believing that “a calorie equals a calorie” (ie. a calorie of ice cream is the same as a calorie of broccoli) for your physiology. The food we eat has cellular-level cross-talk with our genetics, influencing the health or dysfunction of every cell in our bodies. Enjoy an abundance of whole, fresh foods high in antioxidants and minerals, especially right now, but ideally every day. Reduce your intake of anything processed or refined and eliminate anything containing chemicals or refined sugar. Stay hydrated by regularly consuming filtered water and herbal tea.
2. Stick to a routine: go to sleep and wake up at a reasonable time, and write out a schedule that makes time for the important things in your life - work, play, meals, meditation, self-care and down time. Get dressed in the morning, get outside at least once a day, and prioritize some time for movement. The closer we adhere to a schedule during a time of chaos, the calmer we find our nervous systems.
3. Prioritize sleep: maintain a regular sleep schedule and practice good sleep hygiene by dimming the lights in your home from 8pm onward, avoiding screens for the hour before bed, limiting caffeine intake past noon, and stimulating the relaxation response with a warm bath, a good book, or a massage from a loved one. Aim for at least 8 hours of sleep per night - with no long commute, it should be easier to get!
4. Workout in a way that feels good to you: you may not feel like taking up running every day, or joining online HIIT classes like some of your peers, and that’s ok! Maybe today feels like a good day to do some gentle stretching, or to take a long walk outside. Listen to your body, and move in a way that feels good to you. But do something every day. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week to reap immune and cardiovascular benefits.
5. Find a hobby: make time for activities that bring you joy. Activities that involve repetitive movements (knitting, coloring, painting) and right-left movements (running, drumming, skating, hopping), are effective means of self-soothing and can help maintain self-regulation during distress.
6. Control what you can, and let go of what you can’t. Find something that you can control, and take full control of it. When things feel uncertain, taking control of one small thing in your world can lessen the overwhelm. Clean your bathroom, purge your closet, or reorganize your spice drawer. Keep yourself anchored in the task, and bask in the sense of accomplishment when you finish.
7. Try to find some humour every day. There’s a little bit of research that shows a positive influence on immune system function when a group of people are allowed to watch a funny video compared to a group who are made to watch a boring video after an immune system challenge. There is a lot to be worried about in the world right now, for good reason. Counter this heaviness with something that makes you giggle - a funny movie, stand-up comedy act, or a book written by your favourite comedian.
8. Remind yourself daily that this is temporary. We have no road map for this, but we do know that we’ll make it through this crisis and it won’t last forever. This too shall pass, and we will return to feeling safe once again.
For more individualized recommendations, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to book a virtual consult with your Acubalance practitioner.
We want you to come out on the other side of this crisis feeling triumphant, balanced and vital. It’s a strange time, and no one can tell you what it’s really going to look like. All you can do is take it one day at a time and take care of yourself first, so you can take care of your loved ones.
Let me know if you need me, I'm still here.